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Total actively supports the development of the marine vibrator, a next-generation seismic marine source. This technology is a solution to some major challenges, allowing us to minimize any sound impact upon marine life during exploration while improving imaging of deep targets and the repeatability of our 4D acquisitions.

andrew_feltham_exploration_production_total
Andrew Feltham

R&D

Improving 4D Seismic Imaging and Minimizing the Sound Impact of Our Operations

A Marine Vibrator to Optimize Seismic Acquisitions - Exploration & Production - Total

A Next-Generation Seismic Marine Source

For over 50 years now, air guns have been the most commonly used sound sources in marine seismic exploration. Deployed a few meters under the water’s surface, these impulsive-based sources release air bubbles at very high speed and under very high pressure. The bubbles expand and contract in the water, generating sound waves which are reflected from under the seabed making it possible to produce images of potential areas for exploration.

Although very effective, this technology is far from perfect, especially when it comes to repeatability of the seismic signal or control of its frequency content. Moreover, some NGOs have expressed concerns about its potential environmental impact, in particular on marine life.

Although no scientific study has demonstrated harmful effects from air guns on a population of marine mammals, Total has been working with its partners Shell and ExxonMobil to develop an alternative technology with a lower sound impact: the marine vibrator. While this is a true technological challenge, the concept is not actually new. First developed in the 1960s, it has not yet resulted in a commercially and technologically viable system that can compete with the signal quality and reliability of air guns.

To maximize the chances of success, the Marine Vibrator Joint Industry Project (MVJIP), managed by the Global Petroleum Research Institute (GPRI) of Texas A&M University, has focused on three distinct technological concepts. It found that one of the three offered very promising performance: the Integrated Projector Node (IPN), a marine vibrator designed by General Dynamics Applied Physical Science (APS).

The Marine Vibrator: Minimal Sound Impact

The sound levels generated in the ocean by this marine vibrator are much lower than those of air guns, which means that their potential impact on the habitats of marine species will be lower too. This sound impact minimization is due to the reduced sound pressure levels (SPL) and sound exposure levels (SEL) associated with the signal emission.

  • Lower sound pressure: unlike with air guns, the marine vibrator is a non-impulsive source. Rather than releasing the total energy necessary for imaging all at once, it distributes it over time. This lengthening of the signal emission (known as “sweep”) from a few milliseconds (air gun) to several seconds (marine vibrator) reduces the sound pressure level (SPL) and therefore the maximum pressure emitted by the source.
  • Reduced frequency range: while the air gun emits all sound frequencies simultaneously, the marine vibrator emits only the frequency range required for imaging, eliminating all unnecessary frequencies above about 100 Hz. The sound exposure level to which marine animals near the seismic sources are subjected to is therefore lower.

The fact that this next-generation seismic source guarantees a minimal impact is a key factor in its development, and this is why Total decided to have its sound impact on marine life evaluated by the Sound and Marine Life JIP. This JIP, of which Total is one of the most active members, brings together high-level technological and scientific expertise that is a basis for full confidence in the evaluation quality. In 2018, the first phase of this study, conducted in a theoretical form via modeling, confirmed the marine vibrator’s environmental benefits. The second phase, carried out using data acquired at sea, will soon yield its results.

Vibrator Marine Team - Research & Development - Exploration & Production - Total

The Marine Vibrator's Many Technological Advantages

The marine vibrator’s technology offers several potential advantages for our future marine exploration campaigns.

  • Higher quality subsurface imaging: the IPN designed by APS offers a very good signal amplitude level over a wide frequency range, in particular for very low frequencies, which are the most difficult to attain. This improvement in the signal in very low frequencies, combined with the possibility of deploying the vibrator at greater depths than air guns, will help improve the quality of seismic data and deep target imaging.
  • Better 4D seismic repeatability: the APS marine vibrator has sophisticated technology allowing for extremely precise control of the signal obtained, and therefore repeatability for 4D seismic purposes, which is to say repeatability over time.
  • Improved productivity: by making it possible to use seismic sources in simultaneous mode, the marine vibrator will reduce the duration and therefore the cost of acquisition campaigns.
  • Access to transition areas: unlike air guns, the marine vibrator can be used in shallow transition areas between land and sea, expanding the potential offshore exploration space.

Upcoming Deployment Under Real Conditions

In 2018, the APS prototype vibrator passed an initial TRL4 test in the waters of Seneca Lake (New York state) with flying colors. Once sufficient conclusive endurance tests have been completed, we plan to proceed with a TRL6 field test of the technology in one of our fields in 2021 and hope to have a sufficient number of IPNs to roll out an initial industrial acquisition bringing a full array of marine vibrators into play by 2023.

To this end, and to prepare for the future processing of data acquired using this new seismic source, Total has taken the initiative to launch the SEAM project (SEG Advanced Modeling Program) on the processing of marine vibrator data, with the goal of showing that this data is exploitable and that contractors can process it.

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